Four death-row inmates scheduled to be killed by lethal injection have gotten a reprieve in their case after a judge halted the Trump administration’s efforts to resume federal executions with an unusual method.
The order from U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan on Wednesday halts four federal executions, the first of which was scheduled for next month. The ruling states that the inmates who were scheduled to be executed seemed likely to prevail in their arguments and “that absent a preliminary injunction, they will suffer irreparable harm” — in this case, death.
Reversing a 16-year break in federal use of capital punishment, Attorney General William Barr in July ordered the Federal Bureau of Prisons to schedule the executions of five death-row inmates. But the plan was to use a single-drug method.
“The Justice Department upholds the rule of law, and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system,” Barr said at the time.
But public support for the death penalty has waned over the years, caused in part by horrifically botched executions. Barr said the federal executions would rely on a single drug, pentobarbital, instead of the three-drug cocktail typically used in executions. Shortages for some of the drugs in that cocktail have helped make federal executions exceedingly rare.
Chutkan ruled on Wednesday that using a single drug violated a 1994 federal statute the requires federal executions to be carried out “in the manner prescribed by the law of the State in which the sentence is imposed.”
“By granting the preliminary injunction, the court has made clear that no execution should go forward while there are still so many unanswered questions about the government’s newly announced execution method,” Shawn Nolan, an attorney for the men facing federal execution, told the New York Times.
Louis Jones Jr., who was convicted of the rape and murder of a soldier, was the last inmate executed by the federal government in 2003.